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2017.05.25

“Beauty + Logic”: Tweets vs. Tales

by Jess Bennett, Copywriter / Communications Coordinator

Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft is a candid book that’s part memoir, part style manual, and part self-improvement guide. It’s the most honest book I’ve read about writing, and the most valuable. It was also published in 2000: four years before Facebook, six years before Twitter, a decade before Instagram.

Today, we are rabid consumers of words and content; much more, I would argue, than when King first started On Writing in 1997. Now more than ever, with innumerable apps and platforms available for us to swipe, like, and share (including this one), everybody writes.

We write emails. We write blogs. We write posts. We say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” In today’s nomenclature, it’s more like, “A meme is worth 140 characters.”  We have so many ways to “do social” that we hardly need the verb to write anymore. We post and tweet instead.

King defines writing as telepathy: a “meeting of the minds,” even when, “We’re not even in the same year together, let alone the same room.” But that’s no longer true in the digital age; on social media, we’re often together in the same second.

In the opening chapter of her how-to guide, Everybody Writes, marketer and content manager Anne Handley suggests, “The key to being a better writer is, essentially, to be a more productive one.” And sure, the more you practice something, the better you (often) get. But I can’t help feeling that endless content generation is diminishing the craft of writing.

With our insatiable appetite for content and the proliferation of self-publishing (even if it’s only a Facebook page) I often wonder, “If everybody writes, what makes a Writer?”

So, since everything needs a good #hashtag these days, I offer you #TALES: Technique, Aim, Longevity, Editing, Sincerity.

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Technique: Are you writing or crafting?

We all write something almost every day, whether it’s a shopping list, a text, an email, or a blog entry. All writing is communication, or more precisely, an attempt at communicating. The act of writing is simply sending a message; but the craft of writing determines whether your message is received via smoke signal, morse code, or FedEx. Everyone writes, but composition is essential. Care about the words you use. Care about how you package them. Care about grammar.

Aim:  What’s your motive?  

In Everybody Writes, Handley “reframes this business of writing” from a content marketing perspective and suggests, “Writing is a habit – not an art.” It’s true that routine and determination are essential to producing good writing, and her book is a great, practical guide for marketers to generate better content. But it is also true that writing is more than just a tool for driving engagement, gaining followers, or selling something.

Several years ago, I was approached by a family friend to help write a children’s book about a truck. To my knowledge, this person had never written any kind of fiction before. He had no children. He had not recently been to the children’s section of a bookstore or a library.

I asked him what age bracket he was targeting.

“Everyone. Little kids, big kids, parents, grandparents. Everyone loves it. It’s going to be the next Thomas the Tank Engine.” There was no acknowledgement of Scholastic reading levels, or any indication that he had researched how children’s books are written and designed.

I suggested he take some time to really study the process, but there was no time! He had to self-publish right away, because book sales are highest during the holidays. In other words, he was motivated by the money; not the storytelling. Needless to say, he wasted a small fortune, and probably still doesn’t get why it failed.

It’s great to have ambition, and it’s silly to pretend that results don’t matter. But Writers are also motivated by, as King puts it, “the pure joy of the thing.” Do it because it’s fulfilling and you like it; not just as a means to an end.

Longevity: Will it stay relevant?

Handley doesn’t believe that writing is for, “an anointed lucky few [who] can do it well,” and that populist message rings true. But the key to writing well is not based solely on how often you do it. We need to make distinctions not only between how people approach the act of writing, but what vehicles they use to carry their words.

Unless you compose tweets regularly in iambic pentameter or haiku, it’s a good idea to exercise your writing in prose, scripts, or other long-form content. Most digital content is fleeting and lost in bottomless feeds; but it’s important to value communication that has longevity. Crafting that communication takes time to write and to read, but that’s where the real telepathy happens.

Editing: Does it translate?

Every writer, no matter how skilled, needs to edit, enlist readers, and edit some more. Developing, structuring, and composing an idea is a winding, convoluted process—one in which you are guaranteed to lose some (or all) objectivity. Edit first for yourself, then share it with people whose opinions you value. Even if you don’t agree with all the feedback, but you will gain valuable insights that help you streamline your telepathic messaging powers.

Sincerity: How serious are you?  

A writer is a person who does not come lightly to the page—or the screen, text box, or app. “If you can take it seriously, we can do business,” King writes. “If you can’t or won’t, it’s time for you to…do something else.” Yes, everybody writes; but only those who approach it with sincerity and earnestness are Writers.

I’m reminded of one of my favorite films, Pixar’s Ratatouille (2007). In the beginning of the movie, a country rat named Remy watches his culinary idol, chef August Gusteau, on a television set. “Anyone can cook,” Gusteau says, “But only the fearless can be great.”

That’s it. Be fearless. Share #TALES. And keep writing what you love.

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